What You Need to Know About Binoculars

Don’t ignore the binocular market, or the education base you need to serve it.

What You Need to Know About Binoculars

The market for binoculars goes way beyond hunters and shooters. A good selection covering a broad price range can bring new customers through your doors. (Photo: Zeiss)

Binoculars are valuable tools for hunters, campers, birders, tourists, wildlife lovers and other recreational adventurers. They also bring value to your store.

The vast number of uses for binoculars makes them especially good items to sell at the retail level. Just about anyone who visits your store is a potential binocular purchaser. And it’s a great way to bring in customers outside your regular base.

To successfully sell binoculars, however, it’s important to understand how they work, and the specialized language associated with them. Without that education base, your sales efforts are likely to fall flat. Let’s take a quick stroll through the technology before looking at some good models to stock in your retail establishment.

Binoculars 101

Power, also called magnification, is one of the most important considerations in choosing a pair of binoculars. To understand magnification, note that it is the first number in a binocular description, such as 10x40. In this case, it has a magnification power of 10, meaning that an object the user is looking at will appear 10 times closer than it would to his or her naked eye. A whitetail buck standing 500 yards away will appear 50 yards away through 10x binoculars. It might seem logical to think the highest-power binoculars are the best, but typically the higher the power, the more sensitive binoculars are to small movements.

The objective lenses are the large lenses on the front of binoculars, and they’re measured in millimeters. The objective lens is the second number in the description, for example the 40 in those 10x40 binoculars. Typical sizes for objective lenses are 25-28 mm for compacts, about 30 mm for mid-sized units, 40 to 42 mm for full-sized binoculars and 50 mm and higher for very long-range models. The importance of objective lens size is most related to the amount of light a lens will gather. With larger lenses gathering more light, they are typically more effective in low-light situations.

Another important factor is glass coating. The coatings on binocular lenses — not just the objective lenses, incidentally — are critical to how well the user can see faraway objects. Good lens coatings reduce light reflection off the glass surfaces to further enhance the image. With uncoated lenses, light transmission from objective to ocular lenses might be less than 70 percent, but good lens coatings can raise that to 95 percent transmission.

Coating categories include:

Coated — at least one major optical element has a coating on at least one surface;

Fully Coated — all lenses and glass surfaces have a coating layer;

Multi-Coated — at least one of the major optical elements has multiple coatings of anti-reflective compounds on at least one surface;

Fully Multi-Coated — all glass surfaces have multiple coatings, resulting in 90 to 95% light transmission.

Any discussion of binocular size should involve more than just their weight, although that’s an important factor since heavy binoculars can get uncomfortable by the end of a long day afield. Size of binoculars is generally closely related to the size of the objective lenses since big objective lenses yield large binoculars. People who prefer an ultracompact pair of binoculars for ease of carry have to sacrifice some image quality to do so. However, even with small objective lenses, good glass with fully multi-coated lenses will still meet many recreational needs.

Field of view is the area in feet that the user will be able to visualize when using binoculars at a distance of 1,000 yards (basically the area you can see through your binoculars without moving them). A wide field of view makes it easier to search an area without moving your binoculars. A narrow field of view makes it easier to get a closer look at an object once it is located. Since field of view can be affected by lens design, higher power doesn’t necessarily mean a narrower field of view.

Eye relief refers to the distance between the eyepiece lens surfaces and the position at which the user’s eyes can see the entire field of view when looking through the binoculars. If the user’s eyes are farther away from the eyepiece than the eye relief distance, he or she loses the outer edge of the picture. The longer the eye relief, the easier it is to use the binoculars for long periods of time without fatigue. Likewise, the longer the distance of the eye relief, the more convenient it is to use the binoculars when wearing glasses or sunglasses.

Exit pupil size is another piece of the light puzzle. Good binoculars always make a scene appear brighter than it actually is, and that’s because they gather more light than the unaided eye. Exit pupil is determined by dividing the objective lens size by the binoculars’ magnification, and it is expressed in millimeters. For instance, a 10x24 pair of binoculars has an exit pupil of 2.4 mm. Since the average pupil size for humans in regular light is about 3 mm, an exit pupil of 2.4 would make the scene appear darker than it normally would. Exit pupils of more than 3 mm — say from a 10x50 set of binoculars, which has a 5 mm exit pupil — make a scene appear brighter than normal.

While there are other factors yet to discuss, the last thing we’ll look at is focus type. Center focus with diopter adjustment is the most common type and features a center focusing wheel along with a separate diopter adjustment that allows the user to compensate for unequal vision between eyes. For most binoculars, the diopter adjustment is located on the right and will adjust only the right optical system. Individual-focus binoculars require the user to focus each eyepiece separately. Lastly, fixed-focus or focus-free binoculars are permanently focused for a specific viewing distance with a very large depth of field, so everything from, say 40 feet to infinity, will remain in focus.

New For 2020

Binoculars are available in so many different sizes, qualities and price ranges that determining what models to stock in your retail establishment can be a chore. The best rule of thumb is to focus on quality units in a variety of different price ranges.

Here are a few quality new introductions to consider.

Vortex Diamondback HD

Vortex Optics has a reputation for making high-quality glass that fits into the budget of most outdoor recreationists. And that company’s new Diamondback HD binocular, introduced at the 2020 SHOT Show in Las Vegas, are no exception. Diamondback HDs are available in a variety of configurations in 8x, 10x and 12x, and feature multiple anti-reflective coatings for enhanced light transmission. With a lightweight magnesium chassis, these binoculars are easy to carry around your neck all day. They’re also argon gas-purged and O-ring sealed for waterproofing and anti-fogging. MSRP: $279.99.

Styrka S5

Styrka’s new S5 is well suited for a wide variety of outdoor activities. Available in 10x42, the S5 features Styrka's SXL-MAX multi-coating — a high-tech, broadband coating that the company says maximizes transmission across the entire visible light spectrum. Styrka says that, unlike standard multi-coatings, the SLX-MAX coating does not present any peaks in the transmission of the images, meaning all images are brightly lit and clean edge to edge, with true color reproduction. The binoculars also feature eyecups that twist up or down for a custom fit to the user’s eyes, with or without eyeglasses. MSRP: $499.95.

Zeiss Victory Pocket 8x25

The Victory Pocket 8x25 should appeal to customers who want a high-quality set of binoculars in a small package. Despite their amazingly lightweight construction, the Pocket 8x25’s high magnification and FL-lenses with ZEISS T multi-layer coating help deliver brilliant image quality. They also feature a unique offset hinge that allows the unit to be very slim when folded. And with a 3.1mm exit pupil, users won’t lose a lot of light transmission compared to bigger binoculars. MSRP: $819.19.

Bushnell Engage X

Bushnell is another company known for high-quality optics at fair prices, and its new Engage X 10x42 binoculars certainly fit the bill. Carrying an entry-level price point, the Engage X is lightweight at only 23.5 ounces, along with being strong and waterproof. Lenses are fully multi-coated to ensure high image quality and also feature Bushnell’s proprietary EXO Barrier lens technology for protection against water, fog, dust and other debris. The all-metal chassis ensures the binoculars will hold up to tough use, regardless of what outdoor activity the user has in mind for them. MSRP: $343.19.

Burris Droptine

Burris Droptine binoculars continue the company’s tradition of reliability, affordability and excellent performance in two compact, lightweight models — 8x42mm and 10x42mm — that feature multicoated lenses for maximum light transmission and reduced glare. Internally, they are nitrogen-filled for waterproof and fogproof performance and outer surfaces are rubber armored for protection and a sure grip. For convenient operation, the central focus knob provides quick adjustment and twist-up eyecups make these binos compatible with eyeglasses. Diopter adjustment on the right eyepiece guarantees precise focusing and a dielectric mirror ensures color fidelity. The 8X Droptine provides a wide field-of-view while the 10X model provides greater magnification for long-range scouting. MSRP: $299/8x42mm; $335/10x42mm 

Riton Optics X5 Primal 10x42mm HD

The X5 Primal 10x42mm HD binocular from Riton Optics utilizes a lightweight yet robust magnesium alloy frame that can handle the most rugged applications without adding significant weight. Featuring Riton Optics HD/ED glass, the X5 Primal binocular has the clarity hunters require for those all-day vigils on stand without having to worry about eye fatigue. They are 100 percent waterproof and fogproof, tripod adaptable and come with a neoprene case and neck strap. The X5 Primal features fully multicoated lenses and BAK 4 prism glass, with a 315-foot field of view at 1,000 yards. MSRP: $599.99. 

Sightmark Solitude 10x42mm XD

Sightmark’s Solitude 10x42mm XD (extra low dispersion) binocular features cutting-edge optical technology for stunning sharpness and contrast. Engineered with Bak-4 roof prisms, it yields an advanced, straight tube light system, achieving maximum light transmission and optimum brightness. The unit’s prisms and 10X lenses are fully broadband multicoated for crisp, clear, long-distance imaging. Built to withstand harsh conditions, the Solitude has a rubber-armored, nitrogen-filled and O-ring-sealed body, making it waterproof, fogproof and dustproof. Twist-up, adjustable eye cups provide a comfortable, custom fit, helping to correct eye relief from any viewing position. MSRP: $349.97.

German Precision Optics RangeGuide

There are always those customers who want the best where optics are concerned, and GPO’s new RangeGuide range-finding binoculars should appeal to them. With a size and weight that rivals its competitors in the 42mm binocular class, these 10x50 binoculars boast precise ranging on reflective targets out to nearly 1.75 miles. And at just 6.3 inches tall, the RangeGuide’s magnesium housing enables it to weigh in at only 35 ounces. Special features include true-range angle technology, which calculates the proper distance to the target after measuring the angle to the target, and a scan mode. MSRP: $1,777.77.

Vanguard Endeavor ED IV

Not brand new but nearly so as it was introduced at the 2019 SHOT Show, Vanguard’s Endeavor ED IV offers good quality at a mid-level price point. Available in 8x42 and 10x42, the Endeavor IV features an SK15 prism, which is unheard of at the unit’s price point. “ED” stands for extra-low dispersion, and the company says that means the glass will show the user the true colors of the world with minimal chromatic aberration and maximum contrast. Both barrels have a rubbery coating for a sure grip, and the eyecups are adjustable so you can see the whole picture without parallax, even if you wear glasses. MSRP: $619.99.


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